Parents encouraged to add vaccinations to back-to-school list

Local districts have higher than average vaccination exemption rates


It’s almost time for kids to head back to school, and you know what that means! Backpacks, notebooks, pencils and… germs?

That’s right. According to local pediatrician Kim Avila Edwards, “School is an easy place for children to become infected and sick from a number of germs. Fortunately, we can protect our children by vaccinating them from many illnesses. In fact, children should receive many important vaccinations before they reach school age.”

Children have a better likelihood of fighting off diseases circulating at school if their parents make sure they get their shots before the first bell rings. Doctors are urging parents to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended school vaccine schedule to build their child’s immune system against dangerous diseases, according to the August issue of Texas Medicine magazine.

Dr. Avila Edwards recently worked with Texas Medical Association on a video highlighting the importance of following Texas' recommended vaccination schedule from kindergarten to college.

The vaccination schedule, approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a group of medical and public health experts who develop national vaccine guidelines, contains 12 shots that protect against 16 illnesses. 

Doctors say following the vaccination schedule builds up a child’s immunity. However, if parents hold off or space out the shots over time (instead of following physicians’ guidelines), studies show children are vulnerable to getting sick for a longer period of time.

“As a pediatrician, I have treated children who are very ill because of vaccine preventable diseases,” said Edwards. “I would much rather vaccinate and protect them than to see them suffer from serious illnesses.”

Immunizing children protects them from diseases that could make them very ill or even threaten their lives, and reduces the likelihood they’ll pass a disease to someone else who cannot be vaccinated or who cannot fight infections.

Children should get these disease-preventing vaccinations at several intervals in their lives, starting very young.

“All Texas public schools, most private schools, and colleges require certain shots before kids start kindergarten, seventh grade, and the freshman year of college,” Edwards said in the video. “Check with your doctor before classes start to make sure your child’s vaccines are current.”

However, Texas law does allow parents to opt their children out of receiving vaccinations, something that has drawn the attention of both healthcare professionals and groups who claim vaccinations can cause permanent harm to children.

State law allows a child to be exempt from the vaccination requirements if a physician writes a statement that the required vaccinations would be medically harmful or injurious to the health or well-being of the child or a household member. The law also allows parents to exempt their children for “reasons of conscience, including a religious belief.”

Schools are required to maintain an up-to-date list of students with exemptions, and state records show that Austin-area schools generally have a much higher exemption rate than the state average. 

Current records show that 3.35 percent of students in Leander ISD were on the “conscientious exemption” list during the 2017-18 school year — more than triple the statewide average of 1.07 percent. 

Round Rock ISD had a 1.95 percent conscientious exemption rate, while Lago Vista had a 5.88 percent rate.